The Fool’s Journey is a metaphor for the journey through life. Each major arcana card stands for a stage on that journey – an experience that a person must incorporate to realize his wholeness. These 22 descriptions are based on the keywords for each major arcana card. The keywords are highlighted in the text. A card’s number is in parentheses.
We begin with the Fool (0), a card of beginnings. The Fool stands for each of us as we begin our journey of life. He is a fool because only a simple soul has the innocent faith to undertake such a journey with all its hazards and pain.
At the start of his trip, the Fool is a newborn – fresh, open and spontaneous. The figure on Card 0 has his arms flung wide, and his head held high. He is ready to embrace whatever comes his way, but he is also oblivious to the cliff edge he is about to cross. The Fool is unaware of the hardships he will face as he ventures out to learn the lessons of the world.
The Fool stands somewhat outside the rest of the major arcana. Zero is an unusual number. It rests in the exact middle of the number system – poised between the positive and negative. At birth, the Fool is set in the middle of his own individual universe. He is strangely empty (as is zero), but imbued with a desire to go forth and learn. This undertaking would seem to be folly, but is it?
The Magician and the High Priestess
On setting out, the Fool immediately encounters the Magician (1) and the High Priestess (2) – the great balancing forces that make up the perceived world. It is a feature of the material universe that as soon as we name some aspect of experience, we automatically evoke its opposite.
The Magician is the positive side. He represents the active, masculine power of creative impulse. He is also our conscious awareness. The Magician is the force that allows us to impact the world through a concentration of individual will and power. The High Priestess is the negative side. She is the mysterious unconscious. She provides the fertile ground in which creative events occur. The High Priestess is our unrealized potential waiting for an active principle to bring it to expression.
The terms positive and negative do not imply “good” and “bad.” These are human distinctions that do not apply in the tarot. The Magician and the High Priestess are absolutely equal in value and importance. Each is necessary for balance. We may view the negative as our Shadow, but without shadows, we cannot see the light, and without a ground of potential, we cannot create.
As he grows, the Fool becomes more and more aware of his surroundings. As with most babies, he first recognizes his Mother – the warm, loving woman who nourishes and cares for him. He also comes to know Mother Earth, who nurtures him in a larger sense.
The Empress (3) represents the world of nature and sensation. A baby delights in exploring everything he touches, tastes and smells. He cannot get enough of the sights and sounds that enchant his senses. It is natural to delight in the abundant goodness of Mother Earth who surrounds us with her support.
The next person the Fool encounters is the Father in the figure of the Emperor (4). He is the representative of structure and authority. As a baby leaves his mother’s arms, he learns that there are patterns to his world. Objects respond in predictable ways that can be explored. The child experiences a new kind of pleasure that comes from discovering order.
The Fool also encounters rules. He learns that his will is not always paramount and there are certain behaviors necessary for his well-being. There are people in authority who will enforce such guidelines. These restrictions can be frustrating, but, through the patient direction of the Father, the Fool begins to understand their purpose.
Eventually, the Fool ventures out of his home into the wider world. He is exposed to the beliefs and traditions of his culture and begins his formal education. The Hierophant (5) represents the organized belief systems that begin to surround and inform the growing child.
A Hierophant is someone who interprets arcane knowledge and mysteries. On Card 5 we see a religious figure blessing two acolytes. Perhaps he is inducting them into church membership. Although this image is religious, it is really a symbol for initiations of all kinds.
The child is trained in all the practices of his society and becomes part of a particular culture and worldview. He learns to identify with a group and discovers a sense of belonging. He enjoys learning the customs of his society and showing how well he can conform to them.
Eventually, the Fool faces two new challenges. He experiences the powerful urge for sexual union with another person. Before, he was mainly self-centered. Now he feels the balancing tendency, pictured in the Lovers (6), to reach out and become half of a loving partnership. He yearns for relationship.
The Fool also needs to decide upon his own beliefs. It is well enough to conform while he learns and grows, but at some point, he must determine his own values if he is to be true to himself. He must start to question received opinion.
By the time the Fool becomes an adult, he has a strong identity and a certain mastery over himself. Through discipline and will-power, he has developed an inner control which allows him to triumph over his environment.
The Chariot (7) represents the vigorous ego that is the Fool’s crowning achievement so far. On Card 7, we see a proud, commanding figure riding victoriously through his world. He is in visible control of himself and all he surveys. For the moment, the Fool’s assertive success is all he might wish, and he feels a certain self-satisfaction. His is the assured confidence of youth.
Over time, life presents the Fool with new challenges, some that cause suffering and disillusionment. He has many occasions to draw on the quality of Strength (8). He is pressed to develop his courage and resolve and find the heart to keep going despite setbacks.
The Fool also discovers the quiet attributes of patience and tolerance. He realizes the willful command of the Chariot must be tempered by kindliness and the softer power of a loving approach. At times, intense passions surface, just when the Fool thought he had everything, including himself, under control.
Sooner or later, the Fool is led to ask himself the age-old question “Why?” He becomes absorbed with the search for answers, not from an idle curiosity, but out of a deeply felt need to find out why people live, if only to suffer and die. The Hermit (9) represents the need to find deeper truth.
The Fool begins to look inward, trying to understand his feelings and motivations. The sensual world holds less attraction for him, and he seeks moments of solitude away from the frantic activity of society. In time he may seek a teacher or guide who can give him advice and direction.
Wheel of Fortune
After much soul-searching, the Fool begins to see how everything connects. He has a vision of the world’s wondrous design; its intricate patterns and cycles. The Wheel of Fortune (10) is a symbol of the mysterious universe whose parts work together in harmony. When the Fool glimpses the beauty and order of the world, if only briefly, he finds some of the answers he is seeking.
Sometimes his experiences seem to be the work of fate. A chance encounter or miraculous occurrence begins the process of change. The Fool may recognize his destiny in the sequence of events that led him to this turning point. Having been solitary, he feels ready for movement and action again. His perspective is wider, and he sees himself within the grander scheme of a universal plan. His sense of purpose is restored.
The Fool must now decide what this vision means to him personally. He looks back over his life to trace the cause and effect relationships that have brought him to this point. He takes responsibility for his past actions so he can make amends and ensure a more honest course for the future. The demands of Justice (11) must be served so that he can wipe the slate clean.
This is a time of decision for the Fool. He is making important choices. Will he remain true to his insights, or will he slip back into an easier, more unaware existence that closes off further growth?
Undaunted, the Fool pushes on. He is determined to realize his vision, but he finds life is not so easily tamed. Sooner or later, he encounters his personal cross – an experience that seems too difficult to endure. This overwhelming challenge humbles him until he has no choice but to give up and let go.
At first, the Fool feels defeated and lost. He believes he has sacrificed everything, but from the depths he learns an amazing truth. He finds that when he relinquishes his struggle for control, everything begins to work as it should. By becoming open and vulnerable, the Fool discovers the miraculous support of his Inner Self. He learns to surrender to his experiences, rather than fighting them. He feels a surprising joy and begins to flow with life.
The Fool feels suspended in a timeless moment, free of urgency and pressure. In truth, his world has been turned upside-down. The Fool is the Hanged Man (12), apparently martyred, but actually serene and at peace.
The Fool now begins to eliminate old habits and tired approaches. He cuts out nonessentials because he appreciates the basics of life. He goes through endings as he puts the outgrown aspects of his life behind him. He process may seem like dying because it is the death (13) of his familiar self to allow for the growth of a new one. At times this inexorable change seems to be crushing the Fool, but eventually he rises up to discover that death is not a permanent state. It is simply a transition to a new, more fulfilling way of life.
Since embracing the Hermit, the Fool has swung wildly back and forth on an emotional pendulum. Now, he realizes the balancing stability of temperance (14). He discovers true poise and equilibrium. By experiencing the extremes, he has come to appreciate moderation. The Fool has combined all aspects of himself into a centered whole that glows with health and well-being. How graceful and soft is the angel on Card 14 compared to the powerful but rigid ruler in the Chariot (Card 7)? [Note] The Fool has come a long way in realizing the harmonious life.
The Fool has his health, peace of mind and a graceful composure. What more could he need? On everyday terms, not much, but the Fool is courageous and continues to pursue the deepest levels of his being. He soon comes face to face with the Devil (15).
The Devil is not an evil, sinister figure residing outside of us. He is the knot of ignorance and hopelessness lodged within each of us at some level. The seductive attractions of the material bind us so compellingly that we often do not even realize our slavery to them.
We live in a limited range of experience, unaware of the glorious world that is our true heritage. The couple on Card 15 are chained, but acquiescent. They could so easily free themselves, but they do not even apprehend their bondage. [Note] They look like the Lovers, but are unaware that their love is circumscribed within a narrow range. The price of this ignorance is an inner core of despair.
How can the Fool free himself from the Devil? Can he root out his influence? The Fool may only find release through the sudden change represented by the Tower (16). The Tower is the ego fortress each of us has built around his beautiful inner core. Gray, cold and rock-hard, this fortress seems to protect but is really a prison.
Sometimes only a monumental crisis can generate enough power to smash the walls of the Tower. On Card 16 we see an enlightening bolt striking this building. It has ejected the occupants who seem to be tumbling to their deaths. The crown indicates they were once proud rulers; now they are humbled by a force stronger than they.
The Fool may need such a severe shakeup if he is to free himself, but the resulting revelation makes the painful experience worthwhile. The dark despair is blasted away in an instant, and the light of truth is free to shine down.
The Fool is suffused with a serene calm. The beautiful images on the Star (17) attest to this tranquility. The woman pictured on Card 17 is naked, her soul no longer hidden behind any disguise. Radiant stars shine in a cloudless sky serving as a beacon of hope and inspiration.
The Fool is blessed with a trust that completely replaces the negative energies of the Devil. His faith in himself and the future is restored. He is filled with joy and his one wish is to share it generously with the rest of the world. His heart is open, and his love pours out freely. This peace after the storm is a magical moment for the Fool.
What effect could spoil this perfect calm? Is there another challenge for the Fool? In fact, it is his bliss that makes him vulnerable to the illusions of the Moon (18). The Fool’s joy is a feeling state. His positive emotions are not yet subject to mental clarity. In his dreamy condition, the Fool is susceptible to fantasy, distortion and a false picture of the truth.
The Moon stimulates the creative imagination. It opens the way for bizarre and beautiful thoughts to bubble up from the unconscious, but deep-seated fears and anxieties also arise. These experiences may cause the Fool to feel lost and bewildered.
It is the lucid clarity of the Sun (19) that directs the Fool’s imagination. The Sun’s illumination shines in all the hidden places. It dispels the clouds of confusion and fear. It enlightens, so the Fool both feels and understands the goodness of the world.
Now, he enjoys a vibrant energy and enthusiasm. The Star’s openness has solidified into an expansive assurance. The Fool is the naked babe pictured on Card 19, riding out joyously to face a new day. No challenge is too daunting. The Fool feels a radiant vitality. He becomes involved in grand undertakings as he draws to himself everything he needs. He is able to realize his greatness.
The Fool has been reborn. His false, ego-self has been shed, allowing his radiant, true self to manifest. He has discovered that joy, not fear, is at life’s center.
The Fool feels absolved. He forgives himself and others, knowing that his real self is pure and good. He may regret past mistakes, but he knows they were due to his ignorance of his true nature. He feels cleansed and refreshed, ready to start anew.
It is time for the Fool to make a deeper Judgement (20) about his life. His own personal day of reckoning has arrived. Since he now sees himself truly, he can make the necessary decisions about the future. He can choose wisely which values to cherish, and which to discard.
The angel on Card 20 is the Fool’s Higher Self calling him to rise up and fulfill his promise. He discovers his true vocation – his reason for entering this life. Doubts and hesitations vanish, and he is ready to follow his dream.
The Fool reenters the World (21), but this time with a more complete understanding. He has integrated all the disparate parts of himself and achieved wholeness. He has reached a new level of happiness and fulfillment.
The Fool experiences life as full and meaningful. The future is filled with infinite promise. In line with his personal calling, he becomes actively involved in the world. He renders service by sharing his unique gifts and talents and finds that he prospers at whatever he attempts. Because he acts from inner certainty, the whole world conspires to see that his efforts are rewarded. His accomplishments are many.
So the Fool’s Journey was not so foolish after all. Through perseverance and honesty, he reestablished the spontaneous courage that first impelled him on his search for Self, but now he is fully aware of his place in the world. This cycle is over, but, the Fool will never stop growing. Soon he will be ready to begin a new journey that will lead him to ever greater levels of understanding.